In a UN report leaked last week, Rwanda and Uganda were accused of supporting the M23 rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The findings have since become the subject of a diplomatic row and with Uganda’s credibility as a mediator threatened, the fate of regional peace talks has become highly uncertain.
In the damning 44-page report, the UN panel of experts accuse Uganda of providing intelligence and political guidance to the rebels, and Rwanda of directly commanding the militants. The findings were reportedly corroborated by a number of intelligence agents, and will likely serve as the basis of sanctions for an arms embargo.
Rwanda and Uganda vehemently deny the allegations, however, with the Rwandan ambassador to Uganda, Major General Frank Mugambage, describing the report as malicious and baseless, and Ugandan army spokesperson, Colonel Felix Kulayigye, telling Think Africa Press Uganda would not benefit from an “unstable neighbour”. Both countries are now preparing to write a protest note to the UN Security Council to which Rwanda was recently elected unopposed to a non-permanent seat.
The M23 rebellion emerged in April 2012, made up of mutineers from the Congolese army. It is believed the group is made up of soldiers previously part of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel group that was incorporated into the national army in 2009 as part of peace deal. Accusing the government of reneging on the March 23 peace treaty, however, former CNDP elements broke away to form M23.
According to the leaked UN report, M23 is being controlled by former Congolese general Bosco Ntaganda, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, while Sultani Makenga is in charge of operations and coordination with allied armed groups. Both Ntaganda and Makenga, however, are said to "receive direct military orders from RDF (Rwandan army) Chief of Defence staff General Charles Kayonga, who in turn acts on instructions from Minister of Defence General James Kabarebe”, while Uganda provides political and intelligence support.
The motivations for Rwandan and Ugandan involvement can only be speculated but one concern of Kigali’s and Kampala’s in the region is the continued presence of rebels groups such as the Allied Democratic Forces, a group opposed to the Ugandan government, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a group of former genocidaires opposed to the government in Rwanda.
Findings implicating Rwanda are not surprising as similar accusations arose in a UN report in May. But Uganda, which has been mediating talks between M23 and Congolese government, finds itself in unfamiliar territory with allegations that may undermine its credibility as a neutral arbiter.
The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) has already met four times in the past four months, most recently in Kampala, to find ways to end the fighting in north Kivu – presided over by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. Now, Uganda’s ability to maintain the trust of the DRC government, as well as that of neighbouring countries who have indicated a willingness to contribute troops to a peacekeeping effort, may have been severely weakened.
It is uncertain what will happen at subsequent regional talks regarding the conflict. But Uganda’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem insisted that in spite of the report, Kampala is continuing to push for peace.
“Uganda, as the chair of ICGLR and a neighbour to the DRC, remains fully committed to spearhead the regional efforts to ensure security and stability in the eastern DRC as mandated by the ICGLR heads of state and government,” he said. “I would urge the M23 to remain calm and collected because the peace process is still ongoing. Let them cease fire as President Museveni told them.”
It is quite possible, however, that declining trust in the process could lead fighting to recommence. On October 20, leaders of the M23 accused Kinshasa of showing unwillingness to talk and threatened to resume hostilities after fighting was suspended in August for talks.
M23’s Bishop Runninga Lugerero said: “We were requested by President Museveni to cease fighting for peace talks but Kabila does not want direct talks with us. We want dialogue to ensure peace not war. But if President Kabila refuses to talk, we shall have no option but fight on.”
Whether this statement was a genuine reflection of the reality or not, if the brief lull in hostilities ends, the region’s population will be thrown into day-to-day uncertainty and instability once more.
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